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The Škofja Loka Passion Play

Photo: Bojan Velikonja

The Škofja Loka Passion Play has been inscribed on UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cul-tural Heritage of Humanity. It is also the oldest preserved European director’s book.

The Škofja Loka Passion  or Processio locopolitana, to give it its Latin name, is a dramatic text written in around 1715 (with subsequent revisions added until 1727) by a Capuchin friar, Fr Lovrenc Marušič, on the basis of older Slovenian Passion plays. The Škofja Loka Passion is the oldest surviving dramatic work in the Slovenian language and the oldest extant director's promptbook in Europe – the only one from the baroque era.

In essence, the work is a penitential Passion procession staged at Easter. The Škofja Loka Passion depicts the Passion of Christ, in other words the events from Palm Sunday until the Crucifixion and burial on Good Friday, in 13 scenes, divided into 20 tableaux. The text takes the form of verse monologues organised into 13 scenes taken from biblical texts. It consists of 869 verses in the Old Loka dialect.

The most developed scenes, in the dramatic sense, are Paradise, the Last Supper and Ecce Homo. The Passion is divided into two distinct parts. The first deals with the Fall of Man, which is the work of the Devil. The second portrays Christ's suffering, by which Man is redeemed from sin. The Passion procession combines a triple purpose in that it aims to teach, to encourage reflection and to inspire action.

The manuscript of the work is kept in the Capuchin friary in Škofja Loka, where a permanent exhibition on the Škofja Loka Passion is on view. Facsimiles of the manuscript may be also viewed in the Capuchin library in Škofja Loka and in the National and University Library in Ljubljana.

In 2007 the Municipality of the Škofja Loka passed a special ordinance regulating the theatrical staging of the work in the streets and squares of Škofja Loka. Owing to the challenges involved in its staging, the Škofja Loka Passion is only performed every six years. The complexity and sheer scale of the performance mean that preparations have to begin months in advance. The staging includes up to 900 actors, most of them amateurs, and more than 400 volunteers who help with the organisation. The last staging of the Passion was in 2015. The next is due in 2021.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan